Some, But Not All, Sexual Minority Groups Have Greater Likelihood of Teen Pregnancies and Abortions, Study Finds

WASHINGTON, DC (March 10, 2020) — Studies often analyze sexual minority women as a single group—e.g., without distinguishing between lesbian, bisexual, and mostly heterosexual women—and this can obscure differences between groups of women with different sexual orientations. A study selected as the Editor’s Choice for the March/April issue of Women’s Health Issues fills in some of the knowledge gaps by using a large, longitudinal dataset to examine differences in pregnancy and abortion across the life course by different sexual minority groups. 

Women’s Health Issues is the official journal of the Jacobs Institute of Women’s Health, which is based in the Department of Health Policy and Management at Milken Institute School of Public Health (Milken Institute SPH) at the George Washington University.

Brittany M. Charlton of Boston Children's Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Brigham and Women's Hospital, and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and her colleagues used data from the Nurses' Health Study 2 and 3 and Growing Up Together Study 1 on 124,710 participants followed from 1989 to 2017. They examined the occurrence and timing of pregnancy and abortion by the following sexual orientation groups: completely heterosexual with no same-sex partners, completely heterosexual with same-sex partners, mostly heterosexual, bisexual, and lesbian. They found that completely heterosexual women with same-sex partners, mostly heterosexual women, and bisexual women were more likely to have had a pregnancy, a teen pregnancy, or an abortion than their counterparts who were completely heterosexual with no same-sex partners.

“It is crucial that sex education programs become inclusive of sexual minorities,” the authors write, and “health care providers must not assume that pregnant patients and those seeking an abortion are heterosexual.” They urge that medical education “prepare health care providers to take a sexual history as well as offer contraceptive counseling and management to all patients who want to prevent a pregnancy regardless of sexual orientation.” 

“This study’s use of multiple different sexual orientation categories helps us recognize differences that can be important for guiding sexual health education and provider training,” said Amita Vyas, Editor-in-Chief of Women's Health Issues and Associate Professor of prevention and community health at Milken Institute SPH. “It reminds us that good research, good education, and good health care are inclusive of a range of sexual identities.”

Sexual Orientation Differences in Pregnancy and Abortion Across the Lifecourse” has been published in the March/April issue of Women’s Health Issues.